Hannah Redler works with Jubilee Arts/C-Plex
Notes by Lucy Wurstlin of The Culture Company
Jubilee Arts has been long established as a community arts organisation. They were the pioneers of community arts starting as 4 performance artists in a mini-bus. They were one of the first community arts organisation to use new media as a tool of community empowerment and communication.
Jubilee Arts is based in Sandwell in the Midlands, near Birmingham. It is an area with a significant ethic minority and high levels of deprivation. It has a population of 300,000 but has no cinema, no book shop and very little cultural provision.
Although Jubilee Arts was creating new media work there was no space which was designed to show this work and therefore Jubilee Arts wanted to create it's own space. In which they could show this work and also support other cultural development. It wanted a centre which provided opportunities for training and creative production, gallery space and which would provide a 'back-bone' for future creative industries for the area. It also wanted this space to be a place to 'hang-out' and engage in cultural activity.
New media was and is fundamental to C-Plex's delivery and the project's aim is to 'engage a diverse community in cultural production'. What it brings together is cutting edge artistic practice and visitor attraction, managed workspace and SME seedbeds. It would also provide a high street for creative industries.
In terms of physical design, the spaces within the gallery are linked by a ramp structure which is 2.4 metres wide. The building itself also incorporates a series of 'pods' which could be used to showcase community projects in progress. While Gallery X provides a platform for all types of artistic practice by artists working independantly or with communities, the pods showcase work by the community, for the community, about the community, focussing on relevant community issues and themes, that are also reflected in the gallery's programmes.
The gallery and its surrounds will also be populated by 'ruttlers', artists who will be resident in the building to help visitors engage, access and interpret the work and the space. The ramp is a vital and integral part of the gallery experience.
The spaces are highly suited for hands-on interactives and it is thought that there could be 6-8 temporary exhibitions a year. Jubilee don't want the space to be too visibly technical and want to employ some invisible technologies and sensor based work. There has been some exploration of creating a dark ramp, or dark spaces within the ramp which are suitable for projection work.
Jubilee's mission is to involve diverse communities in the process and practice of art making and the debates around it. The project is not research led but it is in itself a big research project which is investigating intergration which hasn't been explored elsewhere at other media/art/gallery centres. Jubilee want to create something that continually seek the views of visitors about the visual arts and visitor experiences. The project will be playful and is not like the traditional gallery but more like some of the new science centres. It borrows more from theme parks than other cultural centres.
It is a £38 million project and it anticipates 250,000 visitors a year for the gallery, aiming for around 6% of these to be international tourists and for the majority of it's visitors to come from the local communities. C-Plex is due to open in June 2004 and is currently at RIBA stage D.
The local community has been very involved in the planning stage for the building. The project is intended to be aspirational and provide inspiration. It is Jubilee's belief that it is possible that community arts can be internationally platformed and that activity in Sandwell is of wider value internationally. The idea is to break boundaries and to show that everyone can participate either as an artist or as a critic.
It has been compared with the Millennium Dome but that had no artistic vision and the business plan for the Dome dictated the sound and content and the time spent. C-Plex is content led, has very good programming and is not aiming, like the Dome, to be 'all things to all people'. C-Plex has been designed to mix play and culture. The 'Play Zone' in the Millennium Dome was very successful as this was artist led and not 'worthy' and this is more what C-Plex is aiming for.
Jubilee Arts was in a position where it couldn't meet demand and it is a cultural business which needs to make money. The building has been designed as an extension of the Town Square and it has income generating elements which work in the town centre - as a venue space with bars and a café. Jubilee Arts is already working with the audience, but this building will mean growing projects massively.
Science Museum is a good model for interactive work and it is useful to look at how much time people spend in these galleries. People need to know what the boundaries are, they need to be able to make a lot of choices but these choices need to be very defined. Multi User installations are not often recognised as artworks at all.